A mother’s work is never done in this photo by Kristy Casto of Ashburn, Va. Titled “Just One Bite,” it’s the winning image in the 2017 Washington Post Squirrel Photography Contest.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then I’ve looked at a veritable illustrated novel about squirrels. Fat squirrels, skinny squirrels, squirrels who climb on rocks…. You get the, um, picture.

But such is my happy duty when it comes to judging the annual Squirrel Week Squirrel Photography Contest.

The winner this year is Kristy Casto of Ashburn, Va., twice a runner-up in earlier contests. She titled her photo of a juvenile squirrel looking up at its mother “Just One Bite.”

Kristy is in the Army and works in military medicine. Squirrels visit her deck often, so often that she’s come to know individual animals. “That’s Scrattie Sue and one of her babies,” Kristy said of her winning entry.

Said Kristy: “I have a bazillion squirrel photos. I have kids too, but I don’t have as many pictures of them. My kids will remind me of that.”

Why such affection for an oft-maligned rodent?

“They are super intelligent little creatures,” Kristy said. “Their athleticism and agility is amazing to watch. They have distinct personalities. I’m a student of squirrels now.”

And an award-winning squirrel photographer.  What does Kristy look for when composing a picture?

“It’s easy to get a picture of a squirrel eating or sitting in the tree,” she said. “I try to look for something unusual or different. Any time there’s more than one squirrel, that’s interesting.”

Here are some of my other favorite entries:

“One Giant Leap for Squirrelkind” by Sarah Deutsch.

Sarah Deutsch of Arlington, Va., calls this “One Giant Leap for Squirrelkind.” Said Sarah: “We have a back porch and it was just kind of sitting there on the chair looking adorable with this nut. I wanted to get a close-up and it did the little leap.”

“Gutter Squirrel” by Larry McClemons.

Larry McClemons of Annandale, Va., spotted this squirrel lounging in a gutter of his roof. Said Larry: “It’s like he didn’t really care: ‘I’m comfortable. I’ve put in a hard day at work. I’m just waiting for the beer to get cold.’” Not long after he snapped the photo, Larry realized the squirrel had moved into his attic. He called a service to humanely relocate the squirrel.

“Cherry Blossom Squirrel” by Zack Lewkowicz.

Zack Lewkowicz of the District snapped this squirrel at the Tidal Basin. “This squirrel was picking cherry blossoms and dropping them onto visitors’ heads,” Zack wrote.

“You’re It!” by Susan J. Schatz.

Susan J. Schatz of College Park, Md., calls this photo “You’re It!”

“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”  by Helene Lay.

Helene Lay of Swartz Creek, Mich., took this photo of a squirrel balanced amid the sunflower seeds of a hanging bird feeder. She calls it “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”

“If you want it, you have to work for it!” by Lynn Cline.

And speaking of bird feeders, Lynn Cline of Fairfax, Va., watched this squirrel stretching for a snack. Lynn calls the photo “If you want it, you have to work for it!”

“A Diverse Squirrel Neighborhood” by Miranda Hovemeyer.

Miranda Hovemeyer of Silver Spring, Md., managed to capture just about every version of the Eastern gray squirrel — gray, black (or melanistic) and what looks like an albino. She calls it “A Diverse Squirrel Neighborhood.”

“Hungry Squirrel” by Deborah Kane.

Deborah Kane of  Alexandria, Va., submitted this handsome squirrel dining on assorted acorns in the comfort of a shady tree branch.

“Cookie Squirrel” by Matt Evans.

Food of a different sort attracted this squirrel, photographed by Matt Evans of Austin, Texas. “One day while I was on my lunch break, this squirrel came over, climbed up on my table, and stole an entire (large) cookie,” Matt wrote. “He then walked over to a nearby tree, climbed up to a comfortable spot, and ate the cookie while he stared at me.”

“Patriotic Squirrel” by Ken Smith.

There’s nothing more American than the Eastern gray squirrel, as evidenced by this entry from Ken Smith of Columbia, Md. Wrote Ken: “Can’t wait for the Fourth of July.”

And I can’t wait till next year’s Squirrel Week and Squirrel Photo Contest. Keep snapping!

Raise a paw to Thor

Sad news on the squirrel front: Richard Thorington Jr., Smithsonian curator and one of my earliest Squirrel Week boosters, died Feb. 24, at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. He was 79.

“Thor,” as friends and colleagues called him, was curator emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History’s mammals division. He coauthored “Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide” and “Squirrels of the World,” two vital texts. I visited Thor at Natural History in 2011 for the very first Squirrel Week. He showed me around the museum’s vast collection of preserved squirrels, some 30,000 specimens in all. I’d call him every year to hear about the latest developments in the world of squirrel research.

One of the reasons squirrels are good to study, Thor said, is that, unlike a lot of rodents, they are diurnal. That means they’re out during the day. Thor liked to be out during the day, too, even though peripheral neuropathy, a condition diagnosed as Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, had kept him largely confined to a three-wheel electric scooter. Wrote his daughter Ellen: “His love of the natural world led him to take up birdwatching as a child and in later years took him regularly to the C & O Canal where he went birdwatching with his wife just a week before his death.”